Kubatana.net ~ an online community of Zimbabwean activists

Potentially unviewable experience

TOP del.icio.us

Eyes on Zimbabwe is a new feature on Zimbabwe on the Open Society Institute website. They are trying to raise awareness about the crisis in Zimbabwe in advance of Parliamentary, Presidential and local government elections to be held next year. The highlight of the site is “Zimbabwe: The Fight to Free a Country,” a video which apparently “combines footage from inside Mugabe’s police state with testimony from torture survivors, activists, and lawyers who have witnessed the regime’s repression first hand.” The site also features links to additional resources, and a petition and letter to the UN which you can fill in on line.

It sounds like an interesting video – and one which plenty of people here could benefit from watching. It seems like people living outside the country, with the benefits of TV and the internet, often have greater access to independent, accurate news on events in Zimbabwe than do the vast majority of people living here.

I’m lucky enough that the broadband connection at the office means I can see the Timeline (which I couldn’t view on my dial-up access at home), even if it’s a Flash Player page which on my browser remains stuck on 1980. But even with the high-speed connection at work I can’t watch the video. Instead, an error message appears: “This player requires a faster connection to enable smooth playback of video. The connection speed detected will cause a potentially unviewable experience.”

VOA also recently posted a video of activism in Zimbabwe. That one at least includes a dial up version which can be viewed from here, even if the image quality is so poor as to make it barely watchable. This page also links to other VOA videos on tourism, food shortages and hyperinflation.

I’m hoping some people out there in the developed world of high speed connections can view these materials and leave some comments that help people here know what they are all about.

These videos are just the latest contributions to a growing pool of information on Zimbabwe that is conceptualised and developed outside the country. The government’s Gukurahundi massacres in the 1980s which left over 20,000 dead, were well protected from the bulk of international news attention, and at the time went largely unnoticed. The age of Internet, digital photography and satellite connectivity means that the current economic collapse and political turmoil are captured, recorded, and beamed around the world. But ordinary Zimbabweans don’t have access to satellite television or high speed Internet connections, and they remain stuck with state radio, state television, and word of mouth.

I’m all for increasing international awareness in the hopes that it eventually increases international pressure which, in turn, eventually contributes to the change here. But where are the local actions from this global thinking? Is the Soros foundation burning thousands of DVDs of its film and distributing them in the high density areas of Zimbabwe’s cities, where DVD players have become surprisingly common place? Is Studio 7 VOA News making newspaper versions of its Shona and Ndebele broadcasts and distributing them among rural communities?

International attention matters. But it’s no substitute for local pressure. And critical to building that local activism is making a range of materials that inform, inspire, challenge and motivate Zimbabweans readily accessible to them. Let’s see more international support for these locally produced and locally disseminated information initiatives – rather than one more internet video that is potentially unviewable for Zimbabweans.

4 comments to “Potentially unviewable experience”

  1. Comment by Global Voices Online » Zimbabwe: Eyes On Zimbabwe:

    [...] “Eyes on Zimbabwe is a new feature on Zimbabwe on the Open Society Institute website. They are trying to raise awareness about the crisis in Zimbabwe in advance of Parliamentary, Presidential and local government elections to be held next year,” via Kubatana blog. Share This [...]

  2. Comment by Global Voices amin’ ny teny malagasy » Blog Archive » Zimbabòe : Andrimaso an’i Zimbabòe:

    [...] Nampitain’ny blaogy Kubatana blog. [...]

  3. Comment by David:

    Read a fascinating article on Zimbabwe by Susie Linfield: http://dissentmagazine.org/article/?article=950

  4. Comment by Alex:

    Useful observations, Amanda. Part of the problem is that too many of those supposedly focussed on finding solutions for Zimbabwe tend to address the international rather than the local. The real drivers for change are those on the ground – the ordinary men and women who face the daily challenges. Too often however, the audience of choice, for most activists, well-intentined though they might be, is the international community – however one defines it. It seems there is an overriding desire to demonstrate to “them” instead of focussing energies on the potential of those within. The tools we use, the medium that we choose to channel, the language – all these factors have been limited in many ways, including, of course the websites whichnfew have access to. Which is why it would be a good idea to have a vernacular newspaper – written in the languages, to enable people to partcipate, both as listeners and and communicators, in the language they are most comfortable with. The message is simple: Real change will come from enabling and empowering the local constituencies, not necessaryily from informing the international audience. It is good that the latter know, but more important that the local can do … the energy and resources would be better spent on the local.

    Great blog, by the way – will keep on paying regular visits.